What this Fraud Means for Furman's Diversity Effort
Dr. Sharp's actions are harmful, but they do not need to define our future.
On Oct. 28th, Dr. Kelly Kean Sharp resigned from her position as an African American History professor at Furman University. This resignation came after Sharp was exposed for posing as Chicana. According to her peers from her time as a graduate student at UC Davis, Sharp only ever identified as a non-Hispanic White woman. So, when Sharp came out with her new identity, her previous colleagues raised doubts. She neutralized these suspicions by falsely claiming her grandmother was from Mexico.
It appears clear that Sharp fabricated her Mexican identity to seem more credible and advance in her career. It is ironic and disturbing that Sharp chose to do this, especially given the fact that she is an expert in minority experience in America. Her actions fly in the face of what she was teaching and they have left a lot of the Furman student body in a state of disbelief.
The big question we need to ask is, how will Furman move forward from something so damaging? As an institution that has been fighting tooth and nail to further diversity and inclusion, this incident has forced Furman to take a detour on the road to creating an inclusive community.
Unfortunately, Furman seems to have chosen to treat Sharp’s resignation as the final resolution to the harm her actions have caused. That does not sit right with me and many other people at Furman.
A white person posing as a member of a certain minority group is completely disrespectful, even if the individual thinks what they are doing is for a good cause. We can draw a comparison of this situation to that of Rachel Dolezal, the president of the Spokane Chapter of the NAACP who was outed as a White woman posing as Black in 2015. In the instances with Sharp and Dolezal, we see the use of the minority community for individual gain. This is especially inappropriate, because these individuals have not had to experience the real life hardship that the individuals in these minority groups have experienced.
While Sharp’s actions do put a blemish on Furman as an institution that is seeking to increase diversity, if we openly address the pain she caused we can refuse to let this define who we are and where we are trying to go. This is just another challenge that we all must take on together.
We might even view this as an opportunity for our community to engage in dialogue and to inform students of what is and is not acceptable in terms of demonstrating respect for other racial communities. Furman has proven to be resilient in its pursuit of diversity and inclusion, but for that to continue it is important that we address cases like Dr. Sharp’s swiftly, openly, and comprehensively.